Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Two Shows: Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Potter, Regattabar, March 2013

It’s been a week since I saw Chris Potter play with his quartet (David Virelles (p), Larry Grenadier (b), Nate Smith (d)) and two weeks since I saw Kurt Rosenwinkel with his (Aaron Parks (p), Eric Revis (b), Justin Faulkner (d)) and I’ve been wrestling with how best to describe what made these shows so different and, not to put too fine a point on it, why the Chris Potter show was so much better.

Top of Their Game

The most obvious reason, I guess, is that Potter’s band is just better. Larry Grenadier (picture above) is a “best of his generation” bass player, David Virelles is as rhythmically inventive and harmonically adventurous as they come, and Nate Smith plays drums in a way that is commandingly funky as well as surprisingly understated (he played a solo that built so slowly and massively that he was halfway into it before you knew what was happening).

To top it all off, of course, is Chris Potter himself. Combining a pop sensibility (that reminds me of Stan Getz, though Potter sounds nothing like him) with a protean mastery of the instrument, Potter can be at turns lyrical and wild, brainy and melodic. And whether it’s a question of his acumen as a leader or the collective intelligence of the ensemble, the group moved effortlessly with him and around him into realms that seemed both uncharted and sublimely familiar, as if we had been transported to a 80s era Brecker Brothers New York funk throw-down infused with an unheard of at the time nuanced modernism.

Long story short, Potter’s set was energetic, energizing and everything I want when I go see live jazz: amazing musicians playing astonishing, improvised music.

Something’s Missing

Which is not to say that Rosenwinkel’s quartet is not comprised of talented musicians. They are solid players all (and, frankly, when Justin Faulkner let loose towards the end of the set I saw, it entirely elevated the proceedings). For his part, Rosenwinkel, too, is a “best of his generation” player (to the extent that, a few years back, John Kelman lamented his “almost too pervasive influence on younger guitarists”). Indeed, Rosenwinkel’s first solo, delivered with his space-age, “hornlike” tone and deft phrasing, was captivating. Listening to it I thought to myself, “This is why I’m here.”

Unfortunately, this thought was not sustained or, perhaps, even sustainable. At fault, in part, was the sound mix. Parks’ piano was at intervals difficult to hear, Revis’ bass perpetually muddy. At fault in part as well was the instrumentation. Having much enjoyed the Weather Report-esque, prog-jazz turn of Rosenwinkel’s most recent album, I was hoping that at least we would get to hear some electric piano. Instead, we had Rosenwinkel’s Holdsworthian guitar competing (and winning, I suppose) with a conventionally acoustic rhythm section.

But perhaps the biggest issue is the basic concept of the band. It is, without a doubt, Rosenwinkel’s, and I would say everyone (including myself, truth be told) was there to see him, not them. On this front, at least, he did not disappoint. His playing was fairly inspired throughout and, at times, “shreddy” enough to drop the jaws of the many guitar-hero-worshippers in attendance.

It’s just the experience would have been that much better if the whole had sounded as good as this one part.

So What?

As someone who has struggled for years to become a competent musician, I’ve tended to look with a jaundiced eye upon much music criticism. If a critic finds fault with the work of a musician or performer, and said critic is not a musician or a performer, my stock response is the old standby, “If you think you could do better, go do it!”

Still, I am disappointed, at times, when I go to see music and I believe that this disappointment has something that the musicians or performers could learn from (though I have also learned that musicians and performers, generally speaking, are not entirely open to the recommendations of total strangers).

So what could Kurt Rosenwinkel learn from my disappointment, or, alternately, my enjoyment of Chris Potter’s performance? The only thing I can think of is this, which is more or less the advice I would give anyone: Surround yourself with musicians who are as talented or more talented than you are.

That being said, I know it ain’t easy, especially because, let’s be real, it might just be a question of money. Chris Potter has been both a successful sideman and a successful group leader and, for whatever reason, was able to hire (I assume that’s how it worked) great sidemen who are recognized masters in their own right.

If Kurt Rosenwinkel can’t do the same (not to diss the guy’s he’s currently playing with), I understand.

If he can, then I encourage him to do so.

Category: Music

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4 Responses

  1. I’ve seen Potter, Grenadier, and Smith, and they all blaze. Miles saw Faulkner with Branford Marsalis last April and was very impressed. (He went with two friends of mine because I was still recovering from pneumonia.) Miles was especially impressed by how young Faulkner is, and that he first played with Branford when he was 18. So now that Miles is 13, he’s beginning to get more serious about practicing his drumming … 🙂

    I think you have now written three times about Rosenwinkel, and two of the three were about how the band didn’t click. So there surely is an issue with his bandleading here, and how he thinks about putting sidemen together.

  2. admin says:

    One might wonder why I keep going… and, truth be told, it’s because Kurt is such a bitchin’ and idiosyncratic guitar player.

    Also, with regards to Faulkner, the only time the set really lit up was when he starting going off in the last two numbers. It got everybody going. I got to speak with him briefly after the show and he has a very firm handshake!

    Also, check out David Virelles – his playing was really cool and Potter basically let him kick off their second number with an extended solo.

    Finally, as you may have surmised, Andrew, I was primarily interested in your response. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I didn’t surmise that, but how cool! 🙂

    We’ll have to see if there’s any good jazz that you, Miles, and I can go to when we are in MA in late July/early August.

  4. admin says:

    Totally. If nothing’s happening (the jazz scene gets a little quiet in the summer—I think all the names go to Europe to play festivals), maybe you guys can come to Concord and play with me and my jazz friends!